Asymmetric horror: Team up with a group of friends or random survivors online and work together to escape a deranged killer. Or, of course, become the killer and do the deranged things to the helpless survivors. What could be more fun than that?
The history of this specific sub-genre of horror goes back further than you’d think. Although it wasn’t exactly mainstream, The Hidden was a 2005 mod for Half-Life 2 which had groups of survivors teaming up against one powerful, human-controlled enemy. Although it definitely leaned towards the action horror side of the genre, it still fits the bill.
Dead by Daylight
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch, Android, iOS.
One of the most popular asymmetric horror games, Dead by Daylight offsets its fairly simple gameplay with a huge variety of survivors and killers.
At the time of writing, DbD features 21 survivors and 19 killers to choose from. Each match consists of four survivors and one killer. The survivors fix generators to open the escape door, and the killer attacks and places the survivors on hooks to kill them.
Each survivor and killer has a set of unique perks. There’s a mix of original characters and classic TV and movie villains and heroes. These include Laurie Strode and Michael Myers from the Halloween franchise. Newer faces include Nancy and Steve from Stranger Things, along with the Demogorgon as a killer.
As mentioned, DbD’s gameplay is quite simple and even repetitive on the face of it. But the mix of well-designed original and classic characters makes it a very strong contender in the genre. As of now, this is the most modern way you can recreate movies like Halloween and Nightmare on Elm Street in the virtual world. There are even classic maps based on these movies. Other killers span the universes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Saw, and Scream.
That is, if you’re willing to pay for DLC. You get a selection of original characters and killers included with the game, and all the maps are available for everyone. But virtually all the classic friends and foes are locked behind a paywall.
And the paywall isn’t cheap, either. Like a freemium mobile game, you can either very slowly earn the free currency, or pay for premium content. Many survivors and killers are sold in pairs. For example, the Nightmare on Elm Street pack gives you Freddy Kreuger and Quentin Smith for US$6.99 (£6.49).
In-game cosmetics (many of which can only be bought with real money) can cost as much as about £7.99 for a single outfit.
That said, if you’re going to ignore the DLC anyway or don’t mind paying for it, DbD is a very strong contender in the genre. It’s especially fun to play with friends, and without any in-game mic support, teaming up (or against) people you know definitely enhances the experience.
Friday the 13th
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch|
Notably missing from Dead by Daylight’s universe is Jason Voorhess, from the 1980 classic Friday the 13th (and its many, many sequels).
F13 has a notably different tone and gameplay style to Dead by Daylight. Set in the late ‘70s or ‘80s, each round is based around seven camp counsellors surviving against the masked killer.
Gameplay is arguably more varied than DbD in some ways. There are several ways for counsellors to survive the night: Fix a car or boat, fix the phone and call the cops, outlast the time limit, or kill Jason (the latter being very hard to pull off).
Each counsellor has a different score in various attributes: Vanessa, the athletic girl, has fantastic speed and stamina but terrible stealth. LaChappa, the nerdy guy, is great at repairing and sneaking around, but can’t run to save his life.
On the other hand, the killer is always Jason*, so no Leatherface or Michael Myers here. There are a variety of Jason types to choose from though, taken directly from the movies. Each one has a different weapon and strengths and weaknesses, although they play fairly similarly.
There are also far fewer maps than DbD, with only four (plus small versions of three of them, designed to create faster-paced matches). Plus, they’re all set in summer camps by the lake, so there’s far less variety there too.
If you like the genre, Friday the 13th is an incredibly fun game despite, or perhaps because of, its many technical flaws. The studio that developed it has notoriously been plagued by issues, ranging from each patch seeming to introduce many new bugs, to a legal dispute that means no new content can be added to the game. But the result is a wacky and often exhilarating experience whether you’re playing Jason or one of his victims.
So, don’t expect the game to be updated beyond a few small patches any time soon (or ever). But what you do get is a very fun experience, whether with friends or others, that isn’t too heavy at all on pushing DLC. There are a small handful of cheap packs, like a Halloween costume DLC that costs a couple of dollars. It can add a bit of variety to the game without you spending much at all.
*Spoiler alert: Unless you count Jason Part 4, who’s technically an imposter.
Last Year: The Nightmare
This PC-only title could certainly scratch that asymmetric itch if you’re tired of the more popular titles. But its PC-only release and a few internal issues make it problematic.
Last Year’s matches consist of five survivors (with six to choose from) and one killer (among a choice of four). The characters are all original, featuring an obvious but satisfying cast including the jock, who’s a literal Chad, and prom queen Amber.
The killers are an interesting mix. They include a creepy guy called the Strangler, and a giant Spider that’s pure nightmare fuel for arachnophobes.
There are only three maps, which are various parts of a high school like the Library and Gym. The killers are fast and have a variety of tools including gas bombs and traps. And as with F13, the survivors have some basic weapons but generally need to run or hide.
Unlike DbD and F13, the entire game is played in first person whether you’re a killer or survivor. The aim of the survivors is to complete objectives which open up the exit. And there’s some variety here, such as adding fuel to a generator or activating a computer terminal.
Whether or not you prefer the fast-paced, first-person action compared to the somewhat slower third-person perspective of F13 and DbD is down to personal taste. What Last Year definitely lacks though is any kind of progression. There aren’t any levels to gain or skills to unlock here. So it may well suit players looking for a different asymmetric horror to play casually with some friends. But in many ways it feels bare bones compared to its peers.
Resident Evil Resistance
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Capcom initially revealed Resistance with a trailer back in September 2019. Reception was lukewarm, with many players worried its development would detract from the upcoming Resident Evil 3 remake. As it turns out, Resistance is bundled with RE3, so at the time of writing there’s no way to buy them separately.
This is perhaps an odd decision, especially as non-RE fans will be unlikely to want to spend around $60 just for the multiplayer game. But looked at in isolation, Resistance is an incredibly original and entertaining contender in the genre.
This is another 4v1 affair, with survivors currently having seven characters to choose from. These include series veteran Jill Valentine and six completely new, average Joe types. The killer, called the Mastermind here, has four choices, with three classic villains like Annette Birkin, plus a new villain called Daniel Fabron. Nikolai Zinoviev from RE3 will be added to the roster in May 2020.
Mastermind gameplay is unique in the genre, in that you’re usually not directly controlling anyone. Instead, the Mastermind watches the survivors’ progress through cameras. They spawn traps and enemies, lock doors, and occasionally take direct control of zombies and special bioweapons.
Survivor gameplay is definitely more on the action horror end of things. There’s a focus on gunplay and quickly completing objectives (like finding keycards to open the next part of the stage). There are scary moments to be had, though. Anyone who’s played 2019’s RE2 remake will remember the dread of hearing Mr. X approaching. There are times he and other bioweapons appear so suddenly, chasing you as you rush to a safe room or try to save your friends, that you’ll find your heart pounding.
To date, there isn’t any paid DLC, apart from ‘Boosters’. These are upgrades which allow you to gain more points during matches. Some players have complained that this is a shady pay-to-win mechanic, although it’s not actually very difficult to get upgrades without paying for them. Cosmetics and skills are unlocked in loot boxes (and the cosmetic chests are very costly, making it tempting to buy Boosters). But it arguably doesn’t take much gameplay time to get a set of good skills if you ignore the cosmetics. So, whether or not this is something you’ll support as a player is a personal choice.
The game is still brand new at the time of writing. There’s a confirmed secret roadmap with content to be released until at least July (but almost certainly beyond that). It’s definitely possible paid content will come down the road. Capcom already has the assets in their engine for survivors like Claire, Leon, and Ada from the RE2 remake. So it’s easy to imagine they could be added later on.
If you’re a Resident Evil fan, chances are you already have RE3 and so also have access to Resistance. Even if the asymmetric genre isn’t really your thing, it’s well worth a try for its frantic and addictive gameplay set in the RE universe.
Predator: Hunting Grounds
Platforms: PC, PS4
The inclusion of Predator: Hunting Grounds on this list may be a little controversial, but with its release this Friday it seems like an apt inclusion. It is, however, arguable whether this is a horror game. The asymmetric side is definitely there: Four survivors team up against a single Predator, but the focus is definitely on the action over horror.
To be sure, there’s a lot of gore and even fear to be found here. Like the movie, the Predator tracks survivors with its heat vision. They can then swoop down to attack or shoot from afar with hi-tech weapons.
There’s a definite tension during matches when the telltale clicking of the Predator makes its presence known. And when it turns invisible and starts attacking teammates, chaos often ensues. Small touches like this keep it from feeling like an all-out action game or a COD clone.
In any case, Predator: Hunting Grounds is published by IllFonic, the same studio as Friday the 13th, and there are some similarities between the presentation of each game. The opening menu mirrors that of F13, and the inclusion of a single killer with multiple forms brings to mind the Jason Voorhees game.
But the similarities end there. Survivors (in the guise of soldiers known as the Fireteam) will be taking on a variety of missions together. They work against NPC humans as well as the human-controlled Predator to eventually get to the chopper and escape. It’s also possible to kill the Predator, who can also set off a self-destruct sequence to add some last-minute panic to matches.
Because the game comes from Sony Interactive, it’s only seeing a release on PS4 and PC, so Xbox users won’t get to join in.